/ Food & Drink

Labels should clearly state where our food is from

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So often our food doesn’t clearly state where it was produced, and when it does, the label can be misleading. It’s about time our food displayed clearer and more intuitive country of origin labelling.

The Food Minister Jim Paice has called for food manufacturers to voluntarily provide more information about where our food comes from.

This is encouraging – but we still think the legislation needs to be changed. That’s why we’re working with our counterparts across Europe to make sure this happens.

Many of us want to know where our food comes from. We found that around eight in ten people think it’s important that country of origin labelling (COOL) is on meat and poultry. And around three quarters felt the same about fruit and vegetables, dairy products and processed meats. And the main reason why? Because we want to buy British.

Origin of food labelling a mess

But at the moment, it’s all a mess. Country of origin labelling is voluntary for most foods unless it’s misleading not to provide it (a pizza made in the UK might look like it’s Italian, for example).

Then there’s also a haphazard list of foods that do require such labelling, including beef and olive oil. And though some retailers provide origin information on some other foods out of choice (the Co-operative goes the furthest by labelling the main ingredients in processed foods) sometimes this labelling may not be as it seems.

Where’s your food actually from?

The place where food is manufactured may be different to where its ingredients originally came from. This opens up a whole can of worms – what does ‘country of origin’ actually mean?

Legally, a food’s ‘origin’ is the place where the food last underwent a ‘substantial change’, but manufacturers don’t always interpret this as we would. It could even mean that an animal was simply slaughtered in the UK, or meat was sliced here – both meats could be called ‘British’.

The Food Standards Agency (FSA) advises that the origin of the main ingredients should be labelled if they are different to where the product was made (produced in the UK from Danish meat, for example). But, once again, this guidance is only voluntary.

We want to trust food labels

Firstly, you should be able to trust that when the words ‘country of origin’ is given on food, this is where it actually comes from. And secondly, this labelling should be on a much wider range of foods. If it’s on beef, why not pork?

Things are looking hopeful. New EU labelling rules look set to make the FSA’s guidance legally binding and the European Parliament has voted in support of extending the foods that label their origin.

This debate now has to take place between the EU’s member states, so the government must use this opportunity to ensure that more honest origin labelling is on our food once and for all.

Comments
Guest
Sabine Price says:
5 August 2010

Sure we want to buy British, but we are also European, and some European countries are better at some things than others. For example, I love pickles, also called gherkins. The best of these come from Poland as they do not contain any artificial preservatives nor, horror of horrors, colours. So I want to know that what I buy comes from Poland, but I would be equally as happy with this product if it comes from somewhere else and still does not contain artificial anything, as long as I can be sure that the label is accurate!
I also, however, want to be able to buy food that is grown responsibly, meaning animals used for food have been reared in appropriate conditions, stuff that is grown has not been fertilised with inappropriate stuff, etc.
As so much food is now processed in a number of places, ie yoghurt: milk from one country, transported to another for processing and then distributed in a third where it was also packaged. Where is it from?
Frozen fish – travelling around the world in containers to be processed in a number of places. Where is it from?
Do we really want labels that give us the life history of the process? Why do we want this information, surely we only want it so that we can be sure that the processes are appropriate and under stringent quality control. So, if the standards are known, and adhered to, then it does not matter where our food is processed. If we truly want to buy british then it should not be beyond the capabilities of our supermarkets to buy British and stick the correct label on. They have the clout, they can get that done if they really want to. But are we willing to pay the price or do without strawberries in winter?

Guest
pickle says:
5 August 2010

I agree with Sabine – up to a point. Remember the chicken scandal at Bernard Matthews? I want to see labels giving country of origin with processig countries labelled in brackets…and the labels must be accurate. At the same time standrds set in this country must be observed.

Guest
Peter Vaughan says:
6 August 2010

Shoppers should have as much freedom of choice as possible and this applies not just to food, fruit and vegetables but to other products as well. There is a strong argument which says that, if you are very politically aware about some of the appalling actions that are taken by some governments around the world, then you should have the right to shun any purchases from those countries. So, for example, some consumers might want to avoid buying anything from Israel because of their handling of the Gaza situation. Some may want to avoid anything from Pakistan or Iran because of alleged links to terrorism and the deaths of our soldiers . Some may want to avoid anything from several Muslim countries because of attitudes towards women. There are obviously very strong arguments on all sides of these political questions and if you wanted to avoid anything Chinese because of their human rights record and the high number of people that they execute, then you would have difficulty buying anything these days that was not Chinese! Liverpool, take note. The main point I am making is that everyone should have the right to avoid buying something from a country of whose political actions they disapprove. Clear and appropriate labels are therefore essential on everything we buy.

Profile photo of chris
Guest

I’ll buy British, Euro and Commonwealth,

but some of the offerings like flowers from Kenya are just plain eco-stupid.

Also export areas like Peru & columbia have no controls over their use of agri chemicals and we have no information as shoppers.

The bugs out there are BIG
and therefore ‘organic’ is not possible – we know they use a lot of chemicals, but have you ever seen any listed on fruit?

It came to light in a story about red wines
they are doctored heavily to maintain the same flavours as the grape quality varies dramatically and the clarification agents are often animal products, which are not governed or possibly that safely produced either.

In these caes – I trust the Aussies.

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Guest

There have been some positive developments around country of origin over the last few weeks. First of all, UK retailers signed up to voluntary principles to extend origin labelling on some meat and dairy products and avoid it being misleading (eg. so that cheese labelled as from the UK has to be made with UK milk, not just produced in the UK). Today, Member States in the EU Council of Ministers also supported making it a legal requirement to give the origin on most types of meat (curently, it’s only required for beef and chicken if it comes from outside the EU). This legislation would also sort out the problem of misleading labelling across the board – so if the main ingredients were from a different place to the origin of the final products, it would have to tell you this.

It’s therefore clear that as consumers, it will be easier to see where more of our food is coming from. We are now in the final stages of the EU legislative process – so the Council and Parliament will have to reach a compromise. Labelling could be set to go even further if the European Parliament gets its way, as it wants origin labelling of meat, dairy and other single ingredient foods.

Guest
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10 May 2012

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